By Ruth Bernstein, co-founder and chief strategic officer at Yard, a strategic image making agency
Over the past few years, marketers across all industries and categories have been obsessed with millennials – how to reach them and build meaningful connections with their brands. This captivating generation has a unique sense of self and a nontraditional approach to life stages, which has made marketing to them a challenge.
But perhaps even more challenging is the next generation on the rise – Gen Z. If marketers thought they threw out the playbook with millennials, they need to know that Gen Zers aren’t even playing on the same field.
Gen Z defined
Gen Z consumers range from ages 2 to 19, though the target range for marketers lies from ages 11 to 16. Gen Z is the most diverse and multicultural of any generation in the US – 55 percent are Caucasian, 24 percent are Hispanic, 14 percent are African-American and four percent are Asian.
Gen Z beliefs
There are a few key beliefs native to Gen Z that all retailers must understand. First, Gen Zers are the least likely to believe there is such a thing as the “American Dream”. They look for products and messaging that reflect a reality rather than a perfect life – an important distinction for struggling retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch who still market their products by projecting a flawless, carefree, perfect world. Gen Zers simply don’t respond to these traditional notions of beauty or a projected image of perfection like past generations have. They respond to independence and entrepreneurialism, self-direction and a spirit of ingenuity. Brands like Free People (independence is implied in the name) are targeting Gen Zers with messages along these lines and a bohemian aesthetic, and it’s working. The brand continues to grow with sales up 25 percent in the first quarter of fiscal 2015.
Millennials expect success; Gen Zers make their own
Millennials are the generation of customer service – such as the creation of the Apple Genius Bar – to solve problems at any moment. They design their own, unconventional paths, yet they anticipate consistent success (and hand-holding) along the way. Gen Z is a generation of highly-educated, technologically-savvy, innovative thinkers. They look for solutions on their own. They set out to make things on their own.
With this level of self-direction and purpose, it’s no surprise then that Gen Zers also want to form their own style. They challenge traditional ideas of use, form and function when it comes to all facets of style and design. Brands should market their fashions and products with an understanding that Gen Zers will want to make each piece their own, and a message that that’s exactly how they intended it.
Retailers must create products and marketing that empower these teens to be their best selves. They must also create places — stores, websites, online communities – where Gen Zers feel welcome walking in and logging in, and feel just as wonderful walking out and checking out. Brands that offer goods and an experience that help Gen Zers define and express their individuality and lifestyle will succeed with this group.
Millennials have embraced technology; Gen Zers are digital natives
Yes, millennials grew up with computers in their homes. But Gen Z is the first generation born into a digital world. They don’t know a world without PCs, mobile phones, gaming devices and MP3 players. They live online, sharing details of their lives across dozens of platforms and dictating what they like and dislike with a tweet, post or status. And Gen Zers expects to virtually engage with their favorite brands in doing so. So brands can’t simply “embrace technology” as millennials have. They must act digitally native, too, creating a seamless and strong overarching brand experience across in-store, digital and mobile. It is shocking how few retailers have achieved this. To reach Gen Zers, it is paramount to reach them through two-way conversations, which are initiated online. An authentic digital and social presence, as well as a slew of complimentary digital experiences in which Gen Z fans can engage with and share their brand allegiance, is perhaps the best currency a retailer could generate.
Generation Z is open-minded and adaptable, not a group known for fixed opinions or inflexibility. And, with an estimated 72 million people in this demographic, brands would be wise to broaden their horizons to include Gen Z in their thinking. Brands that build careful marketing strategies that connect with the values of the younger set and offer a better digital experience both online and in-store will be successful among this new, young, powerful generation.